Why millennials living with their parents has become the norm in Southern California

Xitlali Tapia and Ivan Perez got engaged in January and set a wedding date for Nov. 25.

After that, they’ll move in with a pair of unexpected roommates – her parents.

Perez, 26, never dreamed of living with his in-laws. But he and his fiancee, also 26, plan to return to school later this year, meaning they’ll study more and work less. For them, he says, sharing the Tapia’s Anaheim home and saving for a more solid launch slightly later in life isn’t about desperation or lack of ambition – it’s financial common sense.

“We can use that money we would spend on rent to save up, to try to get ahead,” Perez said.

Similar things could be said by Liz Arevalo of Eastvale and Hilary Brown of Garden Grove and, literally, hundreds of thousands of other young adults in Southern California.

For people ages 18 to 34, living with one or both parents is now the most common living arrangement – 32 percent do so – beating out living alone, with roommates, or setting up house with a spouse or partner according to a clutch of new reports on how different generations live. It’s a statistic that Pew Research Center says hasn’t applied to young Americans for at least 130 years.

It’s also particularly pronounced in Southern California. In the Inland Empire, 44.5 percent of all adults under the age of 34 live with their parents, making the Riverside/San Bernardino metro area No. 2 in the country behind Miami. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Orange County region, at 41.5 percent, ranked No. 4, behind New York City.

Several factors play into this. Southern California and other urban areas are home to more people from parts of the world where younger people traditionally stay at home until marriage.

But the bigger factor is money. In urban markets, entry level wages – the money often earned by millennials – isn’t enough to support independent living.

Moving out in Southern California can be hard for young adults earning the region’s typical starter wages. In the Los Angeles/Orange County area, median rent in 2015 was $1,348, or 68 percent of millennials’ median monthly income of $1,975, according to Abodo, an apartment listing service that also tracks demographic and economic data about young adults.

In the Inland Empire, which had a lower median rent, a typical wage earner under 34 still would have shelled out 65 percent of their median monthly income. The area also had the highest 2015 unemployment for the cohort among the large metro areas in Abodo’s study – 12.6 percent.

With such factors in play, the stigma of living with parents is fading. And while some stereotypes that describe millennials – from “ambitious” to “self-centered,” “unprofessional,” “entitled, and “lazy” – feel entrenched in American culture, they don’t take into account some demographic facts:

– Millennials are the biggest, most diverse and best educated generation.

– Millennials came of age during the worst economy since the Great Depression, and many of the jobs created during the recovery haven’t paid well enough to help them catch up.

– Data shows that millennials are pushing off some life milestones – marriage, parenthood, home ownership – as they work toward economic security.

New stage of life

For Brown, of Garden Grove, living with her family is about emotional security as well as economics.

At 28, she attends community college, on and off, with a long-term plan to become a teacher and writer. She says balancing school and part-time hours as a ride operator at a local theme park is tough – though not necessarily as tough as life would be if she couldn’t live with her parents.

She gets along with her family and, parental doting aside, she’s treated like the adult she is.

“In the back of my head, I don’t want to be too comfortable,” Brown said. “Because I’m afraid: What if I never leave?”

Still, Brown feels anxious when she learns that peers are moving up and moving out.

“It’s crushing,” she said. “When you’re younger, you have models (about) going to school (and) then going out on your own,” she said. “You think: ‘That’s the standard. Being independent means leaving home.’ ”

But, for now, she can’t afford to move out. Her parents don’t collect rent, but she still has bills to pay and she still doesn’t (yet) earn enough to live on her own.

Brown’s father, Greg, understands the economic forces keeping his daughter and his 25-year-old son under his roof. He also says it’s different, today, than what he experienced at the same age. After Greg Brown graduated high school, in 1980, he moved briskly through the typical young-adult milestones — finishing college and earning a master’s degree and marrying his wife by his mid-20s. Today, he’s a real estate contract manager.

The elder Brown said he’d like to see his kids move out, but doesn’t want to rush them out the door without a career and proper financial footing.

“Our expectations for our kids are probably in line with what we were expected to do,” Greg Brown said. “But we understand, for several reasons, for some millennials, it’s gonna take a bit longer. In some cases maybe a lot longer.”

That time frame is hardly limited to the Brown household.

Most young Americans, in fact, are hitting traditional adult milestones later than their parents and grandparents, says Frank Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, who authored the 2010 study, “On a New Schedule: Transitions to Adulthood and Family Change.” He cites everything from shifting cultural norms to recent economics as key factors.

He also points out the same could have been said about “young adults” throughout American history.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, young people were expected to contribute to the family economy, but gender roles and other societal barriers prevented women and minority groups from fully participating. The U.S. Census of 1880 recorded that a full 30 percent of people ages 18 to 34 lived with their parents, roughly the same level as today, and the share grew slowly but steadily until 1940. During that period, few young adults lived alone or as single parents.

The situation started to change after World War II. Jobs in the post-War era often required little in the way of formal education, allowing people to marry, have children and move into their own homes at younger ages than their parents or grandparents were when they hit the same milestones. By 1960, nearly two-thirds of American adults under the age of 34 were married or living with a partner in their own home; just one-in-five still lived in their parents’ home.

The decline of well-paying manufacturing jobs, particularly since the 1980s, has led to higher education becoming the key to middle-class employment and lifestyle. Meanwhile, the rising cost for a university degree, and the time needed to complete it, has pushed back the average move-out age.

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Chris Alexakishousing, C.A.